Lot prices have risen fast because of their limited supply, especially in popular neighborhoods, and strengthening demand for new homes.
July new-home sales, while down 13.4 percent from June, were still almost 7 percent higher than last year, the Commerce Department says.
Meanwhile, few lots were developed during the home-building downturn that began in 2006. When housing started to pick up, builders got caught short.
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"There's been a big jump in demand for something in scarce supply," says Jody Kahn, vice president with John Burns Real Estate Consulting.
Prices for raw land — which will turn into finished lots months or years from now — have also soared in many markets.
Since late 2012, raw land prices in parts of Las Vegas have more than doubled, says Dennis Smith, CEO of the Las Vegas-based Home Builders Research. Land prices have also doubled in Phoenix since that market bottomed in 2010, says Arizona land broker Nate Nathan.
Finished lot prices in Dallas, Houston and Austin have rebounded past their 2005-2007 peaks, Burns' data show.
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All three cities saw job growth of 3 percent or more, vs. 1.7 percent nationally, in the 12 months through June.
Crowe doesn't expect lot prices to keep growing at their current pace. As developers and builders refill the pipeline, price gains will slow.
"This year is the big bump," Kahn says.
—By USA Today's Julie Schmit.